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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on March 11th, 2016.

apple_bread_crumb_pudding

Every so often I tell you – MAKE THIS. Here’s one of those occasions. It may not look all that special, but if you’ve read my blog long enough to trust my advice, then this is a dessert you need to make.

A few weeks ago I had a luncheon at my house. It was a fund-raising event for my P.E.O. chapter. I do some kind of an event every year and ladies in my P.E.O. sisterhood sign up and pay money to come to my house for whatever it is I’ve organized. The money is donated to the chapter (and money sent to Cottey College, in Iowa, to help support that small, but growing women’s college). Another sister had suggested that I borrow a DVD from her from her collection of The Great Courses. Renowned lecturers and professors present 45+ minute videos about a variety of things, from history, to science, to literature. Alice had recommended I look at the history segments and choose one that the group (10 of us) would watch.

So, I planned the lunch. I chose a video about the far-reaching effects of the Opium Wars of the 1600s (which affected world trade and still does today). I’d intended to choose something about American history, but found the Opium War one a bit more interesting. Nevertheless, I planned a menu revolving around old-American recipes. Months before my co-hostess and I divided up the food to prepare and invitations sent out, etc. Then, bless her heart, Linda, got sick and ended up in the hospital, so I hosted the event alone and doing all the food. I was a bit pooped-out by the end of the day, I’ll tell you! My friend is doing okay, is home and now taking new heart medication.

After watching the video, I did a sherry tasting. Staying true to the old-America theme, I knew that gentile women, back in the 1800s would only have partaken of sherry in the “drawing room” or the “parlour.” So I dug out some small liqueur glasses (at one time, years ago, I had some sherry glasses, but I don’t know what happened to them). I bought a bottle of sherry for this, but then thought – oh, I should look in my liquor closet and see what I have. Hmmm. Nothing less than 7 bottles of varying types of sherry. Two duplicates too! I do use sherry in cooking, and sometimes the recipe will call for very dry, or medium, or amontillado, or fino, etc. One of my PEO sisters helped me with the pouring while I worked a bit in the kitchen. Anyway, we progressed from very dry, to Bristol Cream and everything in between. Most of them had never tasted the different types, so they learned something. And definitely it needed to be Spanish sherry. During early America days, sherry was brought across the sea in huge casks on ships.

We sat down for the lunch, and I explained to everyone about the history of Country Captain, the main dish I had decided to make and one I posted about in 2010. It’s a chicken stew, of sorts, that originated in India, but came to the Americas via Savannah. It’s a mild curry dish loaded with bell peppers and onions, then topped with condiments (this time I used toasted coconut, toasted almonds and fresh bananas). It’s served over white rice.

Then I served this dessert. It originally appeared in a cookbook called Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery (published in 1837) and Tori Avey, a food blogger, mostly of old time American recipe, knows from her copious research, that Mary Todd Lincoln bought the cookbook (some archive actually has the receipt of the purchase), and since it may have been her only cookbook (such books were few and far between back then) it’s assumed that either she (or the family cook) would have prepared this apple dish for the President for sure. I read Tori’s blog post to my group.

And everyone raved about it. Did I say several people asked if they could lick the plate? They did ask, but of course, no one did. I wanted to also. I’m so happy I still have a serving left which I’ll enjoy today sometime. WITH the little bit of nutmeg-almond-cream poured over it.

What’s GOOD: this dessert is just unctuous. I don’t use that word much, so you can take that to mean it’s something very special. It’s soft and warm and comforting and ever-so American like apple pie, but without all the fat from a pie crust. Do serve it with the nutmeg enhanced cream. It almost “made” the dish IMHO.

What’s NOT: it takes a bit of time to peel and slice 11 apples, but it’s SO worth the time in doing so. A real keeper of a recipe.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple Bread Crumb Pudding

Recipe By: From a food blog: toriavey.com
Serving Size: 12

12 small Granny Smith apples
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter — plus more for greasing the dish
1 1/4 cup brown sugar — [I used dark brown]
1 cup bread crumbs — (homemade crumbs from artisan bread are best)
CREAM SAUCE:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon almond extract

NOTE: If you buy artisan bread for this (recommended) pulse the crumbs in the food processor, but leave them with just a bit of texture – a few pieces of 1/4″ chunks will be fine. [I used about a third of a ciabatta loaf.]
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel and core the apples, then slice them very thin (use a mandoline if you have one). Place the slices in a large mixing bowl. Pour lemon juice and lemon zest over the apples along with the nutmeg. Toss the apples with a spatula till evenly coated by the lemon juice, zest, and nutmeg. [I poured the juice and zest in the bottom of the bowl, and after slicing 2 apples at a time, I used my hands to toss and coat the apples with the juice. By the end, there won’t be any juice left in the bowl – the apples will absorb it all.]
2. Chop the unsalted butter into many very small chunks.
3. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with unsalted butter. Create a single thick layer of apple slices on the bottom of the dish, covering the entire surface with apples.
4. Sprinkle a generous layer of brown sugar on top of the apples. Dot a few bits of butter across the top of the sugar, then sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs on top of the butter. Repeat the layering, finishing with a thin layer of bread crumbs.
5. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, until the edges are brown, the pudding is cooked through, and the apples are soft. Use a knife to test the apples. Serve warm with cream sauce. [If you use a different sized baking dish, it may take longer to bake – use a knife to test the apples, as the recipe indicates.]
6. SAUCE: Pour heavy cream into a small pot and warm slowly over medium heat, whisking as it warms. When it begins to boil, whisk in powdered sugar, nutmeg and almond extract. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a serving pitcher. It will form a skin if not served immediately. [This can be made a day ahead, left out at room temp, and reheated in 200°F oven for about an hour.]
Per Serving: 339 Calories; 19g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 102mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 12th, 2016:

    This is unique among all the old-timey apple dessert recipes I’ve come across. Definitely something I’ll want to make.

    Oh, I hope you do, Donna. So many others may just look at the recipe and go right on past, thinking it’s just like any other apple dessert, but it’s truly NOT like all the others. I want to make this again. Soon. It was so delicious! . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 13th, 2016:

    I think your choice of bread here–ciabatta–is inspired. I do a version of Smitten Kitchen’s scalloped tomatoes, and it is way better when I make it with ciabatta than with other breads. It absorbs the liquid but doesn’t just turn into mush–it still has some texture. I would think it would perform similarly here.

    Well, I think the original recipe called for “artisan” bread, and going to Trader Joe’s, the only one I thought could possibly equate to that was the ciabatta. And yes, it certainly has more form and texture. It’s NOT a soft bread, for sure. . . carolyn t

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